By Ernest Dyason
Back in March of 2019, I was hunting in northern Cameroon with Mark Schroder from Houston, Texas, when on our last hunting day, while still on the hunting truck, we spotted a large herd of Lord Derby eland.
Standing about 150 yards away was this tremendous bull, black around the neck and shoulders, much taller than the others around him. For some reason, Mark just could not pick out the right one from where we were standing, ready on the shooting sticks, a short distance away from the truck. The eland left, and the rest of that story is documented in another issue of the African Hunting Gazette.
That image remained in my mind and I will never forget it. At night back at camp, I told Reinhardt, the owner of the Block we were hunting on, about the bull, and he named it Blackie. As I fell asleep I wondered if I would ever see it again. Probably not. Eland are wanderers and can cover lots of territory at a time.
In 2022 after Coronavirus finally began to ease travel restrictions, I found myself back in eland territory, deep in Northern Cameroon, with Brent Kitten, also an avid hunter and adventure seeker from Lubbock Texas, USA. Brent and I hunted together in South Africa and formed a lasting friendship.
Because of airline schedule complications, I ended up in Yaoundé two full days, before Brent could arrive. Yaoundé, is not my favorite African city, so you could imagine my frustration at being stuck in a hotel room. It is a noisy, congested city with smells that range from burning plastic to wood smoke to gas and diesel fumes. Very little English is spoken. When Brent finally arrived we set off on a nearly five-hour drive south to the Garoua area, the starting point of the hunt. We arrived just in time to meet Reinhardt and enjoy lunch and have an afternoon siesta.
During lunch, Reinhardt briefed me about the hunting zone. The year was exceptionally dry and cool. Normally in late February the day temperatures could easily soar way above the 100-degree mark. But instead, our mornings were cool, rarely reaching the 95 degrees at midday. I was definitely not complaining, but generally any unusual weather creates different hunting conditions as well as outcomes.
I was told about a small group of eland frequenting the “usual eland area,” and with them was a really nice old bull. “Maybe it’s Blackie,” suggested Reinhardt. That instantly brought back those memories from 2019, like yesterday.
After our lunch and siesta, we checked the zero on our borrowed .338 and went for a short stalk along the dry river bed behind camp, searching for whatever.
As expected from the German-made rifle and optics, the zero was spot on, and off we went.
About 500 yards into our stalk, our lead tracker whispered to me, “Cephalo rouge” (Red-flanked duiker). How he spotted this little guy, at least 150 yards away in the long grass, I will never know, but through my binoculars I could clearly see his horns, and the hunt was on.
The duiker kept feeding away from us, although we managed to close the distance to about 80 yards, set up the stable sticks and Brent got into position, in case a shot presented. I decided to give a short “lamb in distress call”, through my nose, to see if I could get him to stop.
The ram turned in his tracks and charged straight towards us until he got to maybe 15 yards away, where he stopped dead in his tracks, obviously noticing us. Brent made a great shot right in his chest and the trophy was ours. What a start! First afternoon, and an amazing red-flanked duiker with horns that would bring tears to any record-book-seeking hunter.
A few beers that night and some more discussion about the hunt for Blackie, was followed by a sound sleep under air conditioning driven for a while by the camp generator.
At 5 a.m. the next morning the noise of the generator starting up again, was the wake-up call. An hour later we were on the road, with the same hunting crew as in 2019. Gabrillo the head tracker, Osmano No 2 tracker, and brother to No 1, “Fat” our spotter. The was the fellow who carried enough water for the day, and my French translator, who was not really needed once we were on tracks and hunting lingo took over.
We saw where the tracks of a small group of eland had crossed the road ahead of us. It looked promising, so we were soon well on our way following on foot. The tracks took us into hilly country, crisscrossing all sorts of rough and uneven terrain. Although the tracks were fresh, we followed for hours, and then it e became evident that the herd had smelt us – the wind had started changing back and forth and the tracks were not just meandering anymore, but had a determined direction, straight uphill. Any signs of feeding had also stopped. It was really early in the hunt so I was not too worried, but I have also learnt that no opportunity at giant eland should ever be wasted, so on and on we went. Shortly before noon, and fairly high up on a mountain, we noticed where the eland had slowed to browse a little.
We slowed to a crawl, all our senses on high alert. The wind was terrible, swirling back and forth, left and right. Then my trackers hit the deck. One of them had spotted a tail swishing not 75 yards away in some thickets. It took me quite a while to see the butt end of a young eland bull, and the wait began. We could just barely make out the shape of the animal and the legs of another, presumably a cow. The younger one fed slowly into a clearing where we could watch him, but the rest of the herd was totally out of view. It was hard to image such large animals could hide so well behind so little scrub. At that stage I was still under the impression that we were following six or seven individuals, although the trackers said there were more than 50 in the herd.
The whole setup was too good to be true and soon I could hear them moving away from us through a gully, where they were totally obscured and where there would be no opportunity at a shot. I did however notice a massive set of testicles on one of the lead animals as they disappeared over the crest of the mountain! They did not appear to have been aware of us and were just walking away, so we cautiously followed, expecting to find a huge bull standing side on, just over the crest. No such Luck. The tracks went down on the opposite side, with no eland in sight.
The going was not easy. Loose pebbles and a steep slope made walking hard. Brent took a pretty impressive tumble and just in time saved damage to the rifle. The noise was tremendous and I was no longer hopeful.
At the base of the hill we found their running tracks crossing a road, and this, combined with the rising midday heat and our rumbling stomachs decided us to let them be until dusk, when most animals relax their guard and graze on into the night.
A whole roasted red-flanked duiker was available for lunch back at camp – very tasty. After a short siesta we went to where we had left the tracks.
Following the trail was easy as the herd had made a speedy retreat, and it was apparent that there were many more than six individuals. After a few miles of tracking I spotted an animal in the distance that I thought was a bushbuck, and a quick “Shush” got everyone hitting the deck. It turned out to be an eland calf staring back at us. Luckily it was a very young animal, and did not give any alarm. Brent and I peered through our binoculars, trying to make out the other animals. I did see a very impressive set of horns belonging to a bull that appeared to be lying in long grass. Brent and I crawled into a position to shoot in case it stood up or presented a safe shot.
The sun was now very hot on our backs and the wait was awful, but there was just nothing else we could do. Sooner or later they had to start moving as late afternoon approached. The set of horns did move eventually, but not as we expected. The animal was not lying down, but standing in extremely long grass, obscuring the entire bull with only his horns visible.
Time went by and I predicted that the herd would be slowly feeding along the edge of a dry creek, and that was where we found them. The whole team of trackers, spotters, water bearers and translator was instructed to stay put, or at least very far behind us. Brent and I crept forward slowly up a slight rise and over a small open meadow where we spotted the swishing tail of one of the herd animals.
Between us and the herd was a small outcrop of rocks, the perfect hideout to view the slowly feeding herd. As we reached the outcrop I heard different noises coming from our left side – a troop of olive baboons were making their way to the same viewpoint! I could not believe our bad luck. But when one of the baboons spotted us, instead of sounding the alarm, he turned tail and bounded off in an opposite direction, taking his mates with him. Maybe the hunting gods were in our favor after all.
From this vantage point we could view many of the herd animals, now numbering around 20 or 25 individuals. The sticks were up, and Brent had the rifle securely balanced and ready for a shot. From my left, I could see the impressive set of horns moving above the grass towards a clearing. My heart was beating double time!
“Get ready Brent,” I whispered, “he’s going to walk into that clearing.”
Then I had a full view of his neck and chest, but instead of the swollen neck and chest of an old mature bull, I realized it was a young one. It was our first day, and I was very tempted to give the command, “shoot” but just could not. My disappointment was obvious, but Brent had been quite clear in his wishes before we started the hunt – “I really hope I get one of those black old bulls, and if I do, it’s the only animal I’ll take and I’ll be very happy.”
The opportunity was gone and so was most of the herd by now. A lone young cow at the back of the herd stared at us and then stormed off into some low ground where we lost sight of them, giving us the opportunity to run closer in order to view the herd one last time. They were very relaxed, with the sun sinking behind us, dulled behind the dense cover of the dust screen or “hamsin,” so typical of the Cameroon savannah and especially at that time of the year.
In front of us was a spectacular scene, the whole herd, spread out in a small, low-lying burnt meadow, with “Blackie” sniffing at a cow right in the middle of the herd. I did not even have to look twice. All I said to Brent was, “Shoot the black one, do you see him?”
I blocked my ears, the shot rang out and “Blackie” went down 60 yards further on while the rest of the herd just looked on. We waited briefly, and our team sneaked up behind us to appreciate the scene.
Some minutes later, Brent asked if I minded him approaching the bull first. Words spoken by a true hunter.
If it was the same black one as that from 2019 we will never know, but was he the eland of Mr Brent Kitten’s dreams? YES!